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Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Subject Summary: Part IB Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

This course can be read by any Part IB scientist, physical or biological, who wishes to pursue the study of biological processes at the molecular and cellular level. It builds on basic concepts discussed in the Part IA course 'Biology of Cells'. The aims of the course are to describe how information is stored as DNA and expressed as specific proteins, how enzymes and other proteins exert their functions, how cells function as integrated and co-ordinated metabolic systems, and how the growth and differentiation of cells is controlled. 

The first term is concerned with Molecular Biochemistry: genes and proteins in action. The three main themes are firstly gene cloning and manipulation, secondly the control of gene expression in prokaryotes and eukaryotes, and finally the structure of proteins, the molecular mechanisms of enzyme action and the manipulation of protein structure to modify function. 

The second term builds on these basic molecular concepts to deal with Cell Biochemistry: properties and functions of membranes and organelles and the integration of metabolism. The first topic is bioenergetics (how cells obtain their energy supply on which all metabolism is based), which is followed by a discussion of the mechanisms by which metabolism is controlled and integrated. The hormonal control of metabolism and mechanisms of signal transduction across the cell membrane lead on naturally at the end of the term to a discussion of the control of eukaryotic cell proliferation and how signalling pathways in mammalian cells are activated by growth factors. This topic is continued with a discussion of 'cancer genes' (oncogenes and tumour suppressor genes) and how the control of the cell cycle may be subverted in the development of tumours.

The third term covers aspects of the biochemistry of microorganisms, including chemotaxis, protein secretion and targeting in prokaryotes. 

Practical work is designed to complement the lectures. It involves experiments and integrated discussion sessions, the use of computers in the analysis of DNA and protein sequences and in the simulation of metabolic control, and journal clubs where small groups are guided by a senior scientist in the interpretation of a recent scientific paper.  An experimental design discussion has been introduced, where students are set an experimental problem to work through, led by a staff member, and are then set a second problem to consider themselves, working in small groups.  This is designed to develop critical thinking about experimental objectives, methods, controls and planning.

Programme Specification: Part IB Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

This course is taught by the Department of Biochemistry.


  1. To build on the Part IA Biology of Cells, providing an advanced foundation for specialist further study of Biochemistry or other molecular biosciences in:
    • the structural organisation of genes and the control of gene expression in prokaryotes and eukaryotes;
    • protein structure, enzyme catalysis and protein engineering;
    • the control of metabolic pathways, energy transduction and cell growth;
    • the methods used to analyse biochemical structures and processes;
    • the implementation of experimental protocols, use of laboratory equipment and of software to analyse molecular structure and sequences.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course students should have knowledge and understanding of:

  1. recombinant DNA technology; chromatin structure, gene expression;
  2. protein structure and folding, conformational mobility and stability, principles of enzyme kinetics, enzyme mechanisms, allostery and antibody recognition and protein design;
  3. structural basis and mechanism of energy transduction in organelles and organisms, and of the control of metabolic flux;
  4. the control of eukaryotic cell cycle; the principal mechanisms by which oncogenes and tumour suppressor genes perturb normal cell proliferation;
  5. signal transduction across membranes and within and between cells;
  6. molecular interrelations of selected microorganisms (including protozoa) with host organisms;
  7. the mechanisms of protein secretion and flagellar motility in bacteria;
  8. the analysis and critical interpretation of the results of biochemical experiments using examples from their own laboratory practice, journal clubs and lectures.

Teaching and Learning Methods

These include lectures, practical classes and discussions, computer applications, journal clubs, experimental design sessions and supervisions.


Assessment for this course is through:

  • two unseen written examinations based on the content of the lecture courses (for aim 1 and learning outcomes 1-8);
  • one unseen written examination based on practical work conducted throughout the year, and drawing on the background given in lectures (for aim 1 and learning outcomes 1-8).

Courses of Preparation

Essential: NST Part IA Biology of Cells
Knowledge of A2-level Chemistry is assumed.

Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Websites pages.